American Identity

“As children, Grace and I liked to pretend our life was a movie projected onto a giant screen before an audience who watched, rapt, as we ate our pork chops and finished our homework…I came to imagine my future not in terms of anything I might do or accomplish, but the notoriety that would follow” (p131-132).

Look At Me a novel by Jennifer Egan

My first book of the summer, Look At Me, gives readers an intricate view of how the physical and outward self make up the American view of identity. The book weaves several characters’ lives around Charlotte Swenson—an American fashion model whose facial appearance is altered in a life changing car accident. Egan goes deep into Charlotte’s psyche, attempting to peel her layers down to who Charlotte really is in the center, without the beautiful exterior. As Charlotte returns to New York, attempting to get her life back, we see how vulnerable she is as people she has known for years no longer recognize her.

 Charlotte isn’t the end of characters attempting to find identity in a world that focuses on appearances. We are introduced to a teenage girl, a detective, housewife, and many other characters who are living lives that focused on personal identity and imposture, hiding something from themselves or others. As several characters’ lives weave into Charlotte’s story, the theme of identity, imitation and lies become more apparent.

As I read Look at Me, I was struck by how honest the character’s thoughts seemed. Egan does an extraordinary job of showing us the truth behind lives of deception. Reading more about Charlotte’s life, I realized that her accident was just the modem of her identity crisis—we are all surrounded by the American identity that Egan portrays, and through her story we are able to see behind the surface of American life.

While at times disturbing, Egan’s story remains honest, something that is invaluable when writing. Egan expresses a universal truth and makes us question who we are and how we perceive and judge others.

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